Did you ever think about “landscaping the woods”? It does seem like an oxymoron in theory. Also, a difficult task to undertake and do well. One marries the wildness of the natural world to your own aesthetic into a space always pushing to keep it out. This post starts a series on further enhancing the experience of your woodland.
Do we add plants or let nature provide for us? Good question, but either way works if one stays sympathetic to the nature of the woodland itself.
In this post, I show you a local State Park where Oak Hill Project is located. The Project area is rather small in comparison. While I am talking in general terms concerning landscaping woodlands in this post, this project has so many creative ideas.
It is intimate in scale and was once the property of a few local Lewiston residents. From 1798 when the land was granted by the crown to James Skinner, U.E.L. until 1898, one hundred years later, it was the home of the Clarks, Streets and Macklems, the families that controlled the mills of Bridgewater, so you can see it was family owned.
One idea to note at this park is the massing of the native plants. Since this garden had been designed, there was control in determining the light and how much space certain plants were “allowed” to colonize. And light is key on using certain plants, but how to get it in a woodland is the question?
Well, considering the amount of shade in forested areas, and bright clearings are far and few between after trees leaf out, plant selection becomes mainly what would likely grow there if left to its own devises. Many shade plants do well in these forest conditions, like ferns for example. Shown above is wild tulip and below Tiger Daylilies. Below also Cinnamon Fern and Columbine.
Forests do have limitations, some they contend with quite well.
Large forest trees rob nutrients and water from the lower ground plants, but those falling leaves each fall replenish the nutrients to breakdown debris to the darkest, rich, moist, and airy soils.
Trees can be thinned to create some clearings where flowering plants can flourish. In nature, trees suffer from wind, lightening, fire, or over population which naturally may open the canopy. If working your woodland, cull the poorer or dead trees to give the more desirable plants a better chance at survival.
Opening the forest canopy will add sunlight to encourage the growth of native ground covers and wildflowers, like the Erigeron above. Also, air circulation is improved, cutting down on too much moisture and fungal disease.
The woods are also a place to find rustic structures like the hut and seating arbor.
One can add a small pond if water is not on the property, but the water should have movement to keep the mosquitoes at bay. See how the one below (and opening the post) has the hand of man, yet still looks natural to its environment? Coming up in the last post of the series, more on streams and the paths that surround or cross them.
In deeper shade, emerald colored moss often covers areas in the forest. Moss touched by the sun is almost magical in the forest – way better than in a lawn.
One thing about woodlands and being surrounded by all that is tall, it encourages one to get down and get another perspective to view the very small.
This series of posts are not about creating a woodland garden from scratch, but enhancing the experience of one created in nature. If you remember my series of posts on the understory, 1, 2, and 3, you will remember everything in nature is layered with high to mid canopies, the understory plants and ground covers. Advantage… lower maintenance.
Fallen trees can become a feature, like the “doorway” if a tree limbs over the path, or they can be carved into art like two images below.
They also can become seating, here in a theater like arrangement for story telling facing a platform. Even the stage area looks to be a slab of slate (stained concrete), for a more natural look. I was at another woodland park that also had a storytelling station, but they did it much differently, all in natural materials.
New plants adapt more easily when planted in the rich, moist forest soil. Mulch after first planting and the forest will do it come fall. I find in wooded areas, the plants do fine and maintenance of thinning and pruning happens infrequently. The most labor intensive chore is keeping the paths of travel from being overgrown. More on paths coming up.
Strive to harmonize with nature by diversifying plantings in your woodland, and your landscape practices will improve wildlife habitat. Join me on a walk through the woods. You just might be surprised what you might find and can use in your own woodland as you make a path to find it.
See Off Into the Woods of Lewiston Gardens for more trips through the woods dotted with interesting finds. Next, art seamlessly integrated into the woods. Not a post to miss!